Gear reviews

Review: Antelope Audio Zen Studio

Antelope ZEN studio

I had the pleasure to review the Antelope Audio Zen Studio directly recived from Antelope.

From the website: “Zen Studio is the professional, portable audio interface with the most competitive analog and digital connectivity. The 12 world-class mic pres, Antelope’s signature clocking, the on-board DSP effects with multiple monitor mixers and the proprietary low-latency USB connectivity make Zen a world-class mobile recording system, that can easily fit inside a backpack or gear bag. Zen Studio is designed to meet the needs of the modern day producer or engineer on-the-go, as well as location sound engineers, sound designers, independent bands and musicians in search of greater sound quality and flexibility.”

Sweetwater has a nice overview and introduction here:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaeFpP8CWiM[/youtube]

 

Installation:
I downloaded the drivers and the Zen Control Panel from the Antelope Website, installed the driver and the Control panel, hooked up the Zen Studio via USB, pressed the update Firmware button in the Zen Studio control panel, the Zen-Studio updated itself to the newest firmware, unplugged the power cable, replugged it and was ready to go.

I had sound coming out of the ZEN within 12 Minutes after unplugging it. To be fair and to mention this like on gearslutz, I recived a very early unit (Beta) and had no sound coming out of the line out. This was solved with upgrading the firmware. You can read up the story on gearslutz.

Zen Rear

Sound:
I can AB test the unit with a Lynx Aurora 8, Antelope Audio Orion and a Mytek ADC 96.
AB with Orion: no change on the DA side. The AD was pretty similar (trying to rerecord audio out of the DAW and back). You could only tell the degradation after 8 passes and it didn’t NULL when inverting the signals. The inverted signal was not the same as with the inverted on the Orion but that is easy explainable with different cable lenght used, manufacturing tolerances.. so it was pretty much the same with both units.

AB with Mytek: you can easily tell when comparing the AD, why the Mytek cost the same for 2 channels, then Antelope charges for 16 channels :) the image was wider, deeper, the bass was more stable with the Mytek. It’s my favourite AD anyway and it’s not fair to compare them (because of the performace/price ratio). The ZEN did a very good job compared to my old RME Multiface II.

AB with Lynx: the Orion feels smoother in the upper mids and more stable in the bass. It has kind of the same midrange as the lynx but doesn’t feel so bright. I don’t like Lynx Aurora anyway because of all the brightness.

The preamps are very good for built in preamps, not coloring, a bit on the boring side but better then RME (no highpitched noise simulating highend like with RME). The preamps are solid. I really like them. Compared to my highend preamps (API 512, shadow hills mono gama, Daking IV) they miss the magic but thats not the intention of built in preamps. No complaints!

Clocking:
I used the built in oven clock which shows up as USB locked when you use it with your sequencer. I also tested the external clock from my Mytek and to be honest, my hearing doesn’t find any difference. I am not the reference if it comes to clocking espacially not for 2 channels playback tests. What I can confirm is, that I found a difference when summing with 24 channels out of my orion into my summingbox and switching between the Mytek and the Orion. The image shrinks a bit, or gets wider depending on the clock. Also I was able to hear difference in the bass area. The topend magic (everything opens up and heavens shine trough my interface right into my DAW) didn’t happend to me. Well, maybe in my next life.

In use:
The interface is incredibly easy to use. The most difficult thing is the routing section if it comes to the AFX section and using the internal mixer together with your DAW. I prefer the RME-style matrix instead of the drag and drop of the Antelope stuff. It confuses me (it did confuse me on the Orion too). I work in an IT environement these days and I prefer the logic/matrix approach. That is just me and I can imagine that the normal project or bedroom producer might find it easier to work with the Antelope panel instead of a panel that remembers him about school and mathematics, so the ZEN-panel wins.

I was able to route everything in and out as I wanted to. They did a good job at Antelope to make stuff easy for the enduser, altough I would prefer a more creative approach to the color table they use. Stronger color differences between the individual channels would have been easier on the eye. Like before, we are suffering on a very high level.

You can set the output-level to your liking (+14,+16.. dbU)

Panel in detail: [youtube]http://youtu.be/rEr2nzYPti4[/youtube]

Latency:
latency numbers, ZEN (Firmware: 1.12 connected to USB, reported by Cubase 6

machine: Intel i7 2600k with asus p^8 board (approx. 2 years old). Win7 sp1 x64

cubase 6 latency findings

in/out means: 
Input 2.449ms and Output 2.449ms

44khz
MIN latency in/out
64samples 2.449 ms 
128 3.9 ms
256 6.803 ms
512 12.6 ms
2048 24.218 ms

standard latency in/out
64 5.442 ms
128 6.893 ms
256 9.796 ms
512 15.601 ms
1024 27.211 ms

96khz
MIN latency inout
64samples 1.667ms
128 2.333ms
256 3.667ms
512 6.333ms
1024 11.667ms

Standard latency in/out
64samples 4.667ms
128 5.333 ms
256 6.667 ms
512 9.333 ms
1024 14.667 ms

 

Mixer/DSP:

ZEN_Control_Panel_1

 

    1. Standby button
    2. Main DA Volume
    3. Headphone 1 Volume Control
    4. Headphone 2 Volume Control
    5. Clock Source
    6. Sample Rate select
    7. Display Brightness
    8. Input Select View
    9. Front 4 x Instrument Preamp HiZ / Line Trims
    10. Rear 8 x Preamps

Trims Routing Tab:

  1. ‘From’ Section
  2. Undo/Redo Routing; Save/Load Set Up Files
  3. ‘To’ Section

The mixer is the heart of every device that is capable of routing audio. You can align practically every input to every output and due to the fact that it has a built in software-mixer, you can split signals, make a custom headphone mix for musicians and so on. (check out the connectivity sheet at the end of the review). You have 4 independent mixers available at hand (check out this video at 2:00):

[youtube]http://youtu.be/jUyqXt8XwIY[/youtube]

Conclusion:
This is a must buy! You get an incredible amount of in and outputs, easy to use USB interface, dsub-line outs for your summingbox or routing dreams and an easy to use control panel. The latency is ok, the built in FX for monitoring are good! I heard that they will implement more plugins over time, I guess the ZEN will become an Apollo competition soon looking at the soontobeintroduced features. The conversion quality is superior to most interfaces I tested in the past.

BUY. NOW. (repeat.. chorus). BUY. NOW.

 

Appendix:
ZEN_Connectivity

3 Responses to “Review: Antelope Audio Zen Studio”

  1. Gwyn Mathias says:

    Excellent review, George!

  2. JP / NoHype says:

    Thanks G. So I need to look at Mytek converters, should I want to move from analog to the wonderful orld of digital recording.

Leave a Reply to Gwyn Mathias

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes